DVD Reviews For 2/26: “I’m Not Going To Be In Your Filthy Movies!”
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/26/10 05:53:06
Nazi zombies, Italian perverts and snotty sorority girls--these are just a few of the oddities on display in this week’s column, along with helpings of melodrama, mumblecore and Milla to top things off.
NEW AND NOTABLETHE ALCOVE (Severin Films. $29.95): In this dirty, dirty 1985 import from legendary Eurosleaze auteur Joe D’Amato, “Black Emmanuelle” star Laura Gemser stars as an African princess in the 1940’s who is taken as a slave by a military man and plunged into a sordid world of violence, perversion, voyeurism, lesbianism and much much more. Obviously this isn’t for everyone but based on the description and a glance at the DVD cover, I am hoping you can determine for yourself if you are the type that might be susceptible to its extra-filthy charms.
ALEXANDER THE LAST (IFC Films. $24.98): The latest low-fi epic from mumblecore auteur Joe Swanberg explores the tangled relationships between a struggling actress (Jess Weixler) and her husband (Justin Rice), the actor playing her lover in the play she is working on (Barlow Jacobs) and her wayward sister (Amy Seimetz). Like most films of this particular subgenre, it is pretty much a drag from start to finish--unless listening to boring people expound on their petty problems at length is your cup of meat--but the charming presence of Weixler (whom you’ll recall as the girl with the extra set of choppers in “Teeth”) helps to make this one a little more tolerable than the others.
BATTLE GIRL: THE LIVING DEAD IN TOKYO BAY (Synapse Films. $24.95): The title pretty much says it all for this wild 1992 action-horror epic--meteorites hit Tokyo that not only inspire chaos and marital law but surround the city in a toxic cloud that causes the dead to rise from the grave with a taste for human flesh and only a spunky young woman and her trusty battle suit can save the day. If that description alone doesn’t convince those of you with a fondness for the weird stuff to give this one a look, consider the fact that the heroine is played by an actress with the priceless name of Cutie Suzuki.
THE BOX (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In the wake of such box-office misfires as “Donnie Darko” and “Southland Tales,” it appeared as if Richard Kelly had finally chosen to reign in his typically trippy storytelling style when he signed on to adapt Richard Matheson’s short story morality tale about a financially strapped couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) who are offered a million bucks from a mysterious man (Frank Langella) to press a button in a box--the caveat being that someone unknown to them will die as a result. Not only did this not turn out to be the case, the film turned out to be the most genuinely freaky and surprising studio film in recent memory--the premise is only the launching pad for a wonderfully hallucinatory narrative filled with one surprise after another--and while it may have failed to connect with a mass audience, it reconfirms Kelly’s place as one of the most inventive new filmmakers of the last decade. One of the 10 best films of 2009--seriously.
CIRQUE DE FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In yet another failed attempt by Hollywood to launch another “Harry Potter”-like franchise, a dopey teenager finds himself, through circumstances too convoluted and uninvolving to get into here, joining up with a bizarre traveling circus and caught in the middle of a war between two groups of vampires. Despite an admittedly eclectic supporting cast (including John C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Fugit and Ken Watanabe), the film is pretty much a bust because the story is too convoluted for its own good and because the central character is an unappealing and obnoxious yutz from start to finish. The only positive thing to say about this film is that it flopped so badly that it is almost certain that we will be seeing a follow-up right around the time that “The Seeker 2” arrives at your local multiplex.
DEAD SNOW (IFC Films. $24.98): In this cult horror hit from Norway, of all places, a group of horny med students go to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend bacchanal and inadvertently awaken a long-dormant evil that proceeds to gruesomely decimate them one by one. The twist this time--the monsters turn out to be nothing less than Nazi zombies. The premise is intriguing enough and it starts off pretty good but it quickly devolves into just another “Evil Dead” knockoff (there is even some not-particularly-amusing dialogue that says as much) in which wit and cleverness are replaced with gallons of gore.
EVERYBODY’S FINE (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.99): Robert De Niro tries for his own “About Schmidt” with this dramedy, a remake of a 1990 film featuring Marcello Mastroianni, in which he plays a widower who goes on a cross-country trip to visit his children (Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore) to learn why they all cancelled on a scheduled reunion and discovers some unexpected things about their lives as well as his own. Although there are some nice moments from the supporting cast, De Niro looks uncomfortable throughout and the story quickly slips from sentimentality to outright mawkishness without ever earning any of its numerous tear jerking moments.
GBH (Acorn Media. $59.99): In this very dark and very funny seven-part miniseries produced for British television in 1991, an ambitious politician with a dark past (Robert Lindsay) calls for a school strike in order to avenge a past hurt and when well-meaning schoolmaster (Michael Palin) inadvertently sabotages it, it kicks off a massive power struggle that has bizarre consequences for both of them. Although the program itself is well worth watching on its own, it is also of interest for containing both an early performance from the always-fetching Anna Friel and a score from Elvis Costello, or should I say Declan McManus, international art thief.
THE INFORMANT! (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In the hands of most filmmakers, this adaptation of Kurt Andersen’s best-selling account of a real-life agribusiness executive who helped expose the widespread secret corruption surrounding one of America’s biggest corporations while barely maintains numerous secrets of his own might have made for a gripping drama of corporate intrigue along the lines of “The Insider.” However, the genuinely bizarre twists and turns that the story took along the way must have convinced director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns that this was a story best told from a more comedic perspective that allowed them to simultaneously recount the events chronicled in Eichenwald’s book in a fairly accurate manner and subtly subvert the conventions of the genre. As it turns out, they made the right call because this is a one-of-kind wonder that is not only the nerviest and most audacious thing that Soderbergh has done on this scale since the wildly underrated “Ocean’s 12,”(the same words can also be used to describe Matt Damon fantastic lead performance, one of the best of his entire career) it is perhaps the most compulsively entertaining film of any type that he has done in a while.
MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): In this masterful 1937 melodrama from director Leo McCarey, an elderly couple (Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi) play a long-married couple who fall on hard financial times and have to move in with their self-centered children--alas none of them are willing to take in the both of them and they are forced to separate as a result. Anyone who has paid good money to see any of those Nicholas Sparks schmaltzathons owes it to themselves to check out this film and see what a good tearjerker, one that actually earns its sentimental moments through sensitive writing and direction and understated performances instead of ham-fisted manipulation, looks like.
MOTHERHOOD (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): This terrible, terrible film stars Uma Thurman as a harried wife and mother who, over the course of one long Manhattan day, tries to do her regular errands, plan and stage her daughter’s sixth birthday party, deal with the complications caused by a local film crew, scribble pithy musings about the perils of motherhood for her blog that would make Erma Bombeck rise from the dead and slap her in the face, maintain relationships with her husband (Anthony Edwards) and best pal (Minnie Driver), flirt with an Indian messenger who appears to be the only ethnic person on display in this version of the Big Apple and compose a winning essay on what motherhood means to her for a contest that could help her revive her long-deferred writing career. However, as this cloying and desperately unfunny film unfolds, it becomes apparent that she is a lousy writer, a terrible mother and has absolutely no time management skills at all--since the screenplay never calls her on any of this (even when she tries fleeing the city the moment things go wrong), I guess we are supposed to find these qualities to be somehow admirable. After watching this one, you may find yourself thinking of a compound word beginning with “mother” but I suspect that you will finish it with a word other than hood.
NIGHT COURT: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Warner Home Video. $29.98): Although I remember liking this long-running 80’s-era sitcom about the wacky shenanigans in a New York courtroom when it first aired, it only took watching a few of the 22 third-season episodes collected here to realize that this is one of those shows that hasn’t quite stood the test of time--the combination of smut, slapstick and sentiment now feels awfully labored and outside of John Larroquette’s still hilarious turn as the sleazy D.A., there just aren’t many genuine laughs here. For those who feel differently, this season is notable for the introduction of Florence Halop as new bailiff Flo (who was replacing the late Selma Diamond and who herself would soon pass away as well) and Markie Post as public defender/romantic foil Christine Sullivan. Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “Adam-12: Season Four” (Shout! Factory. $34.97), “FlashForward: Season One, Part 1” (ABC Studios. $29.99), “Lock N Load With R. Lee Ermey: The Complete Season One” (A&E Home Entertainment. $34.95), “Midsomer Murders: Set 14” (Acorn Media. $49.99), “My Three Sons: Season Two, Volume 1” (CBS DVD. $39.98), “Nurse Jackie: Season One” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $39.98), “Taggart: Set 2” (Acorn Media. $59.99), “The Universe: Season Four” (A&E Home Entertainment. $39.95) and “Wartime Britain” (Acorn Media. $69.99).
THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.99): No doubt commissioned as a big-screen rebuttal to the loose depiction of her in the enormously successful roman a clef “The Devil Wears Prada,” this documentary follows “Vogue” editor Anna Wintour as she and her staff labor for months to put together the September, 2007 issue, a mammoth tome that would clock in at over five pounds and become the single largest issue of any magazine ever published. The problem, however, is that while the faux-Wintour portrayed by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” was often fascinating and even a little sympathetic at times, the real Wintour is a little bit of a bore who wouldn’t seem nearly as interesting if she didn’t have her particular job title. In fact, the magazine’s longtime creative director, Grace Coddington, winds up essentially taking over the movie with her tart observations about the process of putting the magazine together and, of course, about her boss. Her comments are so priceless and lively, in fact, that they pretty much make the film worth watching even if you are the furthest thing from a fashionista. If that isn’t enough fashion-related entertainment for you, this week also sees the release of “Project Runway: Season Six” (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $27.99) and while this particular arc of the popular reality TV show was largely deemed to be a failure due to behind-the-scenes production problems, uninteresting contestants and an ill-advised move from New York to L.A., it does feature Milla Jovovich as the celebrity judge in one episode and as a fashion designer herself, she actually knows what she is talking about.
SHALL WE KISS (Music Box Films. $29.95): In this lighter-than-light romantic comedy from France, a young man with romantic problems (Emmanuel Moret, who also wrote and directed) implores his longtime platonic female friend (Virginie Ledoyen) to kiss him once, purely for research purposes and with no emotional ties. In news that will surprise practically no one (especially if they have ever gotten a look at Virginie Ledoyen), that seemingly innocent smooch winds up having unexpected repercussions for the two of them, their respective lovers and, as we eventually discover, even complete outsiders. The whole thing is pretty silly but the two leads are charming enough to keep it from becoming completely insufferable.
SORORITY ROW (Summit Entertainment. $29.95): Although viewers of this uninspired remake of a largely forgotten 80’s slasher film are supposed to be concerned with solving the mystery of who is knocking off a group of nubile ninnies in revenge for a prank gone sour, most will instead find themselves trying to solve the mystery of what kind of movie it is trying to be in the first place. At certain points, it tries to be a straightforward slasher extravaganza with people being rubbed out in various gruesome ways and at others, it almost seems to be trying to spoof the genre by deploying some examples of bitchy “Heathers”-esque dialogue and such over-the-top scenes as an impromptu discussion of situational ethics held by a group of underwear-clad girls, a bit where two girls take time out from being stalked by a killer for a brief catfight and a sequel-setting final scene so shameless that it has to be a joke. Of course, it doesn’t really matter which of the two approaches it takes because it fails at both of them--it doesn’t work as a suspense thriller because it isn’t suspenseful, thrilling or even creatively violent and it doesn’t work as a spoof because the jokes aren’t especially amusing and because while the cast may collectively have fine bone structure, funny bones don’t seem to played much of a part.
WELCOME TO NOLLYWOOD (Indiepix. $19.95): Although its efforts are rarely seen outside of its homeland, the Nigerian film industry has become the third-largest in the world over the last few years thanks to the industry-wide use of digital cameras to shoot and release product as quickly and efficiently as possible. (It is estimated that they know crank out the equivalent of one complete feature a day per year.) This interesting documentary goes behind the scenes with three of the most notable Nigerian filmmakers as they prepare their latest projects while examining the impact of the industry both at home and abroad.
ANALYZE THIS/ANALYZE THAT (Warner Home Video. $24.98)
THE CRAZIES (Blue Underground. $29.95)
DIRTY HARRY/MAGNUM FORCE (Warner Home Video. $24.98)
GRUMPY OLD MEN/GRUMPIER OLD MEN (Warner Home Video. $24.98)
MISS CONGENIALITY/MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS (Warner Home Video. $24.98)
POULTRYGEIST (Troma Films. $29.95)
PRESUMED INNOCENT/FRANTIC (Warner Home Video. $24.98)